When Does the Past Become History?

When is an event officially history?  One day after?  a week?  a month?  a year?  More?

What are the criteria for determing historical significance?

Everything has a past, but is everything historically significant?

Send us your thoughts!



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5 responses to “When Does the Past Become History?

  1. My rule of thumb for determining historical significance is the number of secondary sources. Historical topics have been reported and analyzed in secondary sources, not just primary sources.(:

    • cathygorn

      Not bad, Sierra! Context and time are everything when it comes to determining historical significance. I’ll address this some more in my next blog this week. Thanks for starting things off!

  2. Heather Dahl

    I used to tell kids it depended on the publication of secondary sources too… like books… and it still does, but I wonder if blogging and 24/7 news world changes that window of time? Generally I thought “history” was at least 20 years old, just so we could have insight, but maybe that is too long now? For my students the Civil Rights is just as ancient as the Civil War… and they do not have their own memories of 9/11! Crazy!

  3. jocelynstar

    for me history is like 2 days ago! but at the same time, the civil war is history, so i think it is just based on personal perception!!

  4. Cathy poses a very good question. It’s one that requires us to think about perspective and distance. After all, what we think is important about yesterday may be utterly meaningless to people a hundred years into the future. Conversely, something may have happened yesterday that will have profound repercussions for the future, but we’re too close in time right now to see that importance. In response to the person who asked about blogs and 24/7 news – these are not the same as historically-grounded secondary scholarship. The rules of evidence, among many other things, are very different for bloggers than for scholars, so perhaps they aren’t the best test of whether or not something has become “old” enough to qualify as history. It’s a tough question, and like so much else about the study of history, can only be answered on a case-by-case basis.

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